They are the anti-Covid patrols. Six pairs made up of social workers and volunteers from Spain’s Civil Protection force who, for more than a week, have been visiting homes where there is at least one person with a coronavirus infection. Zaragoza is the first city in Spain to introduce this measure, aimed at ensuring people observe their quarantine. So far they have visited more than a hundred residences. In 13% of cases, they didn’t find the patient in their house.
“We always get a great welcome, they invite you in and everything,” explains Virginia Guillén, one of the professionals who is doing these rounds. The Aragón regional government put the plan in place given the rise in cases in the regional capital, and specifically in the neighborhoods that are seeing the highest level of infections.
We remind them of the safety measures, we check that they have the conditions in their home to be isolated, and we inform them that if they need to, they can go to alternative accommodationSocial worker from Civil Protection force
Some of these districts have the densest population or lowest average income. For weeks now, and given the rise in the pressure on hospitals, the focus of the authorities is on seeing that those with active infections strictly observe their quarantine.
Last week, Madrid’s deputy health chief, Antonio Zapatero, announced that his government was considering resorting to the courts so that the police could monitor anyone who was breaking their quarantine. The Valencia region also announced that it was going to make people who had tested positive for the coronavirus, or those awaiting their test result, sign a declaration in which they assumed the responsibility of self-isolating.
Aragón has chosen to use the police as support only in the most serious cases, which, up until now, have not been seen. “Our letter of presentation is that we are not here to impose controls, but rather to check why someone has not been reached by phone and explain to them that we are here if they need anything,” Guillén explains. The pair are equipped with gloves, a double mask and a protective visor. The profile, they explain, is usually large families, and in some neighborhoods, “multiculturalism is the norm.”
“We remind them of the safety measures, we check that they have the conditions in their home to be isolated, and we inform them that if they need to, they can go to alternative accommodation,” adds one of the social workers. The regional government is preparing three spaces for housing asymptomatic cases, and one of them is already up and running. As a result of these visits, one person has already been sent to one of the centers, which are available on a voluntary basis.
It is clear that this is working and that visits in person make our work more effectiveMaría Romero, nurse at a healthcare center in the Delicias neighborhood
The Aragón region, which has seen the highest number of infections for a two-month period, counts on 260 contact tracers, healthcare professionals whose main job is to track positive cases and their contacts. María Romero is one of them. She works in a healthcare center in the Delicias neighborhood, which has become the district with the most cumulative cases in the whole region. “When we call, we sometimes have problems understanding and we can’t locate the person,” she explains. “When we detect that there could be some kind of problem, that is when we talk to the team and we come up with a list of homes that need to be visited.” On some occasions, a video call with a cultural mediator is sufficient for the required monitoring.
These teams can carry out five or six home visits in a single day. “It’s still early to say for sure, but in general it is clear that this is working and that visits in person make our work more effective,” explains the nurse. “When you go and see them, they make you welcome, and then afterward we have fewer problems continuing the work by phone.”
One of the problems that primary healthcare workers have been reporting for weeks is the extra work and overload that contract tracing involves. In the center where Romero works, around 30 to 50 PCR tests are carried out a day in the month of August.
The data suggest that the region has managed to contain the number of infections, although it is still too early to confirm the trend. In recent days, Aragón has managed to keep the level of confirmed cases at around 400, compared to 600 a week ago. Even so, it continues to be one of the regions with the highest incidence of coronavirus cases.
English version by Simon Hunter.